2012-09-21 06:10:00

The Racism Behind Anti-Redistribution Politicking


Digby and I have been talking a lot in the last few days about the obvious fact that there are a bunch of working class white folks out there who don't have any problem with socialism for them--just as long as it doesn't go tothose people. That's something you're still not supposed to say out loud in polite society, even though it's obvious as a matter of simple historical record: FDR and his policies were wildly popular among Southern whites and similar demographics until the Civil Rights movement, at which point an abrupt political about-face began in which all such social spending was suddenly outrageous.

It doesn't take a genius to put two and two together. It just takes an honest commentator to risk the manufactured outrage of the right-wing masses to point it out.

Still, Greg Sargent has highlighted more evidence that working-class whites don't really have a big problem with social welfare or even "redistribution":

So today’s report on white working class Americans from the Public Religion Research Institute is a must read. It defines them as ”non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs, and make up one third (36 percent of all Americans,” and it sheds light on what all this stuff is all about.

On “dependency,” the study finds that large numbers of working class whites (46 percent) have received Social Security or disability payments over the last two years; more than a fifth have received food stamps; 19% have received unemployment.

Yet the study also finds that three quarters of working class whites believe poor people have become too dependent on government assistance. There’s obviously overlap there, which bears out what some have already pointed out — many of these voters simply won’t think Romney’s comments about the freeloading 47 percent, or about government “dependency” in general, are about them.

Of course. It's about those other freeloaders. You know, those people. Not hard-workin' folks like them. They just need a hand up. Those people just want a hand out, if you know what I mean.

The only question is whether progressive messaging can cut through the racism, at least for some of them. The answer seems to be yes:

But the findings on “redistribution” are also revealing. White working class voters want to soak the rich, and they agree with key aspects of Obama’s views about capitalism and inequality.

Nearly two thirds of working class whites want to hike taxes on those over $1 million. More than half say one of our biggest problems is that we “don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.” Seventy-eight percent of them blame America’s economic problems on corporations moving jobs overseas and 69 percent on Wall Street making risky decisions.

In fairness, 69 percent also blame government regulation and 64 percent blame Obama’s policies. But as Molly Ball notes, there is clearly a strong strain of economic populism and a powerful skepticism about unfettered capitalism among them.

In the short term this is correct. It's also why "New Democrats" and neoliberalism are so deadly to the Democratic Party: they kill the only strain of politics that can both solve the real problems in this country (a preponderance of FIRE sector and plutocratic greed) and overcome the deep-seated prejudices of a large part of the American public.

In the long term, though, it's just a waiting game. Slavery is this country's original sin. It has affected every major development in the nation, and the ghosts of slavery are still the biggest reason we don't have a decent healthcare, pension and safety net system. Not American exceptionalism, puritanism or the cowboy ethic, but mostly pure and simple racism. There's also a huge dose of misogyny in there as well, but that's not unique to the United States in the way that our peculiar relationship to race relations is.

Fortunately, younger Americans don't view Americans of other races as significantly different from themselves. And that in turn will destroy the ethic of "redistribution for me, but not for thee" that has been the premise of most conservative politics for sixty years. Good riddance. The conservative movement is not prepared to adapt to the change, and will cling to Nixonland for the next several decades to its own eventual doom.

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